Monday, January 31, 2011

The Broadside Ballad by Leslie Shepard

The following quote comes from page 105 of The Broadside Ballad by Leslie Shepard, a book we sold today. He is referring to the descent of a ballad from its "noble" beginnings to the custody of hoarders and collectors. I found words which ring true to the task we have appointed ourselves at moneyblows books and music

“This, then, is the last descent of balladry. An ancient and noble inspiration flowered with the seasons in the countryside, passed to beggar, rogue and mountebank, was sold for pennies in the streets, finally stolen and hoarded as dry leaves in the libraries of fanatical collectors. Yet it is the same impulse that runs through the whole of our great ballad story. The range of human emotions is the same, whether a man writes a song or a thesis. One man earns an honest living, another cheats for pennies; one dies for a song, another sings for his supper. Life is a gigantic affair of many intricate and contradictory aspects, and if our elemental origins seem more heroic than the everyday passions and topics of civilization, they are none the less only part of the same picture.
The secret of the Universe may not be bought for a penny, but it is on these sheets and in the commerce that goes with them. The profound and the trivial in human affairs have always coexisted, and the real meaning of life lies in the truth that transcends both. All our affairs, large or small, are swept away in the great tide of history, and the passing pageant of life itself is as insubstantial as a dream. Everything that belongs to the everyday world of the senses is a moment only in our human consciousness, essentially ephemeral—like old scraps of paper or the words of a ballad half remembered.
There are as many ballads as pebbles on a beach, and they are of all sorts and shapes. Just as we collect new experiences and compare them with old ones, so we collect old and new songs to learn a little more about life. And collect we must, before these fragments pass away.
In 1892, The Rev. S. Baring-Gould, a great collector of folk songs and broadside ballads, wrote:
‘It is but a matter of a few years and the broadside will be as extinct as the Mammoth and the Dodo, only to be found in the libraries of collectors. Already sheets that fetched a ha’penny thirty years ago are cut down the middle, and each half fetches a shilling. The garlands are worth more than their weight in gold. Let him that is wise collect whilst he may.’”

Here's one of the ballads illustrated in Shepard's book. It adds a new range of meaning to a familiar song such as Lefty Frizzell's If you've got the money honey, I've got the time. This ballad is from the 18th century:

One morning of late, as I walk’d in great state
I heard a maiden making sad moan
I ask’d her the matter, she said, sir, I won’t flatter
I am weary of tumbling alone

O that is pity, that a maiden so pretty
And the young men so idle are grown
But a curse light upon it, and worse may come on it
If I leave you a tumbling alone

O then, says the sailor, can you fancy me
I have got gold, and got silver in store
I have brought from the sea, such a fine remedy
That will ease you of tumbling alone

Oh then, says the fair maid, if you can fancy me,
I have got plenty of money in store,
No more cross the main, to fight France nor Spain,
Nor go where the cannons loud roar

O then, says the sailor, I can fancy you,
As long as your money doth last,
She grows thick in the waist, and thin in the face,
But the sailor he steers off at last

As down in the garden there grows a red rose,
I’ll pluck it, and call it my own,
In an hour it will fade, and so will a maid,
That’s weary of tumbling alone

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